Saturday, 26 May 2012

1. This child's to-do list is rather good. Maybe I'll add a few of those things to my to-do list.

2. I had an argument with a friend of mine because I honestly really like this painting of Mr Spock with a cat. He thought I liked it as kitsch, or ironically, but I don't believe in liking things like that, you should either like them or not. If I owned this picture I would put it on my wall. I don't know much about art and I'm not really sure what I like but on the whole I like things which have energy and don't quite follow the usual rules. I do buy art from ebay and etsy in the form of ACEO cards, about which I will blog someday. You have to wade through a lot of rubbish but I have some I really love, and they are embarrassingly cheap.

3. Sound of Arrows, I love you so:

4. These LED shades seem very Pet Shop Boys to me, and therefore I think 1984 would have been more appropriate than 1981. I like the sine wave best:

5. The US Library of Congress has an Ask A Librarian feature. Because I had enjoyed reading about the Comanches in Empire of the Summer Moon, I asked for recommended reading on all the various North American native peoples before the Europeans came. Within a few days I had been sent a list of four suitable books. I'm really impressed by this. Go Librarians! (In the meantime I had started reading a book which turned out to be mostly about how the Indians were wiped out. It was very upsetting and I had to stop reading it, like the coward I am. Basically the US was founded on acts of deliberate genocide. At least the Comanches were genuinely horrible and fought back well. The stories of most of the tribes go: Chief XXXX made a reasoned and eloquent speech about how the Europeans were doing bad and unjust things; the tribe was then wiped out; now the only reminder of its existence is in the name of one small mountain and a 1960s car.)

6. I listened to this song twice more or less accidentally, and it's a real grower, and got stuck in my brain for ages. St Lucia, Before the Dive:

Thursday, 24 May 2012

It continues

Life! It's full of challenges, but sometimes it's unexpectedly joyful. I walked from Imperial to the tube today via Exhibition Road, down past all the museums, and felt suddenly meaninglessly happy. Of course the underground soon saw to that -- a ten-minute stop in the tunnel outside Sloane Square, oven-hot and crowded in -- but sometimes I think that moods have wierdly little to do with actual circumstances. And if you're in a bad mood there's always some convenient reason to hand.

Here is a good song, "The Way I Like It" by Mandy Capristo:

I have finished my exams. They were more or less OK except for one but I won't worry about it now. I also helped out with my parents' alpaca auction. This went far better than I feared. They have six left now, including, I'm glad to say, Beth, the matriarch, my favourite. I blogged about her a bit last June. I'm sorry to see the others go but it's the sensible thing to do. The auction itself was nervewracking but rather fun in retrospect. There were two auctioneers -- the first was very country, the second very county -- and lots of people came. I met a ridiculous little dog which looked like someone with curly black hair had had a haircut and the sweepings had come to life. Apparently it was a King Charles cross toy poodle. My nephew thought she was great but wasn't utterly convinced she was a dog at all -- "Mummy," he said, "we saw a dog and it squeaked at me!" The dog's owners bought Jemima the alpaca, who went for by far the most money, which made me feel quite proud when I remembered that I was the only one home when she was born and had to call the vet out amid much stress (part 1; part 2).

My parents were being very like themselves while I was there. I overheard with amusement my father trying to give some poor woman directions from Honiton to the auction entirely in terms of trees -- "Turn right at the Monterey pines". My mother is annoyed with him because he's planning to go tree-hunting in Arunachal Pradesh again this autumn. (When asked exactly when in autumn he just said "After the Deanery Synod" and I haven't yet got around to googling this so am no wiser.) My mother says it will be a tremendous hassle if he dies out there and she has to go to fetch him, so I suggested good travel insurance would take care of that, but that just started an argument about insurance providers. My father has bought a very large number of pheasant eggs -- he did this last year as well, giving me serious regrets about introducing him to ebay. Last year they all either failed to hatch (disappointing) or died in small batches from odd but preventable things (traumatic), and only one lived to adulthood. It was a Reeves pheasant, a notoriously vicious breed, and it has no toes because its siblings pecked them off before succumbing to various ailments (except I think one was eaten by a badger). Consequently my mother and I call it The Pobble, which annoys my father, after the Edward Lear poem: "The Pobble who has no toes, had once as many as we". Anyway my father purchased a bride for the Pobble, and she laid fifteen eggs, and of all the eggs he's been trying to hatch so far this summer, none have except thirteen of those. Which means that he now has thirteen little monsters to try to rear. Reeves pheasant chicks are scrawny and vicious and remind one of the things which pecked the fat computer man to death in Jurassic Park. But my father is so eternally optimistic that I expect he'll be surprised when they all manage to kill themselves and each other, and he'll be upset, and my mother and I will both be nice to him but still aggravated that he didn't see it coming, because that's how families work.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Noble in reason, etc

So, I'm the middle of exams for the first time since 1997.  They issue us with calculators in the exams, just in case a topic comes up with logs in it or something.  But I don't think I've used a calculator since 1994, when I had a nice graphing one for my Maths A-levels.  (These days I do all my sums in Excel, which is a good deal more civilised.)

Probably everyone ought to have to do exams from time to time just to remember how hideous they are and bad for mental balance.  I'd forgotten quite how crazy they make one.  I'm a good deal more wise and have a better sense of perspective than last time I took them, and although this is nice for me as a person, I don't think it's going to affect my results positively.  I seem to have lost all academic competitiveness and just want to pass -- but my failing one or more module is a very real prospect.  It'll be annoying if I do.

It's good for me to be forced to go back through this stuff under pressure, because parts of it are tremendously cool really.  And I like the general attitude of Computing Science.  Our slides are full of sentences like this: "Writing device drivers can be fun but must be taken very seriously", written by lecturers clearly worried that if not checked we'll be out there writing frivolous device drivers with the innate carelessness of youth.

And basically I can't think of a bigger human achievement than the computer.  Our exam tomorrow is a very tough one which takes us from the absolute basics up to the operating system level.  It's amazing that within the last sixty years or so people have taken two very simple concepts -- the difference between 1 and 0, and the everlasting loop -- and built on them to make such incredibly complex machines.  Cities are very impressive things, and so are buildings, and industries, but I don't think there's any way that humanity can compete with the mind-bendingly massive stretches of space except in the mind-bendingly huge number of tiny logic gates constantly flicking between 1 and 0 as huge amounts of data stream through them every time I type a simple letter a.  When I post this, and someone views it elsewhere, the protocols and formats that will be casually invoked and discarded, the codings and decodings, the transmutation of pulses into different forms as they travel through different media, are so complex and abundant -- and all just to do this trivial thing, to put some throwaway thoughts I had onto a screen.  It's very disconcerting, in a good way.  (Though this may be just the exam craziness talking.)